August 25, 2013

Dan Demeritt: LePage's weak denials more harmful than a confession

Nothing's worse than a self-proclaimed straight talker caught up in a cover-up gone bad.

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Dan Demerritt, Gov. Paul LePage's former communications director, still gets calls from the media when the governor says something controversial.

File photo

Had the letter made just those two points, it would have been a much stronger acknowledgment of a mistake and expression of regret – not enough to fix the problem, but probably enough to suffice.

But there is a lot more to the letter than just that.  It includes admonishments of President Obama and the media and takes a swipe at those who would not let the governor’s remark fade into yesterday’s news. There were also some references to LePage’s upbringing that attempt to explain the governor’s blunt speech.

All that extra stuff makes LePage sound like a politician intent on spreading the blame to others rather than just owning his own mistake. I am not sure if the letter is enough to keep other Republicans from speaking on the record later this week.

My professional observation is that we are watching a slow-moving public relations train wreck.  I do not know if it is being driven by the governor’s legendary contempt for the press or the suggestion from advisers that political spin is the right solution. It is likely a combination of both. Either way, it is a disaster.

Politically there will be a high price to pay because the governor has put Republican lawmakers and party officials in a position where they have to take heat for his statement and poorly executed denial.  The base of support that would give LePage a leg up toward re-election will be lower and weaker.

The governor’s been inaccurate and just plain wrong many times in his public statements.  I could always live with mistakes, believing that, as long as the sentiment was in the right place, the details would get worked out in the end.

This is different.

My personal view is that Paul LePage is a good but hard man bringing an entirely new approach to a very tough job. I desperately want him to succeed and want to be proud of both my association with him and his accomplishments as governor.

I want LePage to own his comments without equivocation, explain what he meant and get back to work pushing for the reforms we need in Maine. The letter issued late last week, with its blame shifting and admonishments, is not enough.

Dan Demeritt is a Republican political consultant and public relations specialist. He is a former campaign aide and communications director for Gov. Paul LePage. He can be contacted at:

Twitter: @demerittda

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